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Time for a boiling hot tempest in a property tax teapot?

Residents urged to gather, tea in hand, to discuss the increasing property taxes in municipalities across Greater Victoria.
Faced with inflationary costs, most people tighten their belts, writes Stan Bartlett. But municipal councils in the Victoria region seem to think residents can easily come up with more money to pay for property tax increases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A commentary by the vice-chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, a non-partisan citizens advocacy group for municipal taxpayers.

We would never encourage taxpayers to toss bales of tea into Victoria Harbour at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15.

But the way things are going, there’s at least therapeutic value in surreptitiously throwing a used tea bag into the drink and sacrificing a cuppa or two.

If nothing else it would give residents — coping with Big Spenders on regional councils — a chance to huddle and moan about oversized tax increases running as high as 100 per cent.

Already scrambling, renters paying the third highest rates in Canada will need to find a purse string to tighten.

Already struggling, more businesses will likely pull up stakes once they can no longer cope with property-tax differentials several times that of residences.

Already suffering, residents on fixed income will bow heads and carry on.

At this tea party, there’s no need to make speeches or hold a press conference or moronically toss a statue into the deep, it would be a civil gathering at the end of Ship Point.

Stunned Metchosinites will show up knowing they face increases of about 100 per cent. After hiking property taxes by 10.3 per cent last year, hikes to policing costs are driving forecasts of 22.1, 24.3, 27 and 28.8 per cent.

At almost eight per cent, Victoria has just approved the first tranche of a projected 53 per cent five-year hike.

All municipal budgets must be approved by Wednesday, May 15. So we will provide aromatic but cheap tea at the party.

Beleaguered homeowners from Saanich, our region’s largest municipality, will likely be there in force.

The 2023-27 draft plan predicted an average annual tax increase of 5.27 per cent. As early as last September, the early budget prediction skyrocketed to 8.03 per cent for 2024.

With a substantial infrastructure deficit such as the works yard on the horizon, even that projection may be underestimated.

If you’re a Langford resident though, we will throw in an extra teaspoon of sugar, gratis.

In 2023 Langford raised property taxes 12.41 per cent, the largest hike ever. Now there’s a proposed 11.79 per cent jump this year, followed by a 11.19 per cent increase next year, and raises of 7.87 per cent, 7.99 per cent and 4.89 per cent in the years that follow. Skip the math, it’s a lot after compounding.

The rookie council may have underestimated the taxes required to pay for upcoming council conference expenses and a substantial infrastructure deficit.

Heaven help businesses in North Saanich facing property tax increases this year. They already pay a multiple of 8.366 of the rates paid by residential homeowners.

Even though it’s the highest in B.C., the North Saanich mayor wants to audit airport assessment to get more taxes.

Understand, this “tea party” isn’t really an act of civil disobedience or tax resistance.

You can find those by Googling “List of historical acts of tax resistance.” There’s a truly fascinating list of 432 acts from the first century A.D to now, a partial list, note editors.

This tea party won’t make the list as it will be a subdued, thoughtful gathering. However, a few questions will be asked.

Why do councils continue to set property taxes using cost-plus-budgeting, an unsustainable and indefensible approach to setting increases? Do they know it fuels inflation?

As a starting point, Victoria uses the StatsCan inflation figure of 5.6 per cent for all items in the previous year 2023. Then they add police, capital projects, and an expanding wish list to arrive at almost eight per cent.

Mortals, faced with inflationary costs, tighten their belts knowing they aren’t getting anywhere near an eight per cent pay raise.

Citizens delay buying a car, eliminate hockey fees for their kid, and find cheaper housing. They live within their means and keep wearing the sweater with the holes in the elbows.

After a few years, this reality gap widens, councils (and staff) end up on another planet looking down at stunned taxpayers.

Why are some local politicians championing a “municipal price index” so they supposedly can better gauge inflation? Hint: to get more taxes from homeowners and business owners.

They argue the basket of goods that cities need to purchase has witnessed cost escalation at rates that exceed those of average consumer items.

Motions at annual Union of B.C. Municipalities meetings have failed twice to get support for this index. The province doesn’t like the idea either.

Why are councils here and across the country lobbying the federal government for taxing powers?

Both of these options sound like schemes to continue with their fiscal fantasy by wrenching money from another taxpayer pocket. Shouldn’t the priority be getting their own house in order?

Why not share more services, consolidate jurisdictions, manage absenteeism better, sell assets, manage spending beyond the core responsibilities, etcetera?

How about appointing a budget task force similar to Vancouver, economize and manage differently like everyone else?

If you’re mad as hell about the prospect of 50 to 100 per cent property tax increases, join us for a soothing cuppa at the “tea party” (and bring your own biscuits).

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